One neuron has huge impact on brain behaviour

November 15, 2012, University of Queensland

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from Australia and the USA have made a unique discovery about how the brain computes sensory information.

The study by scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the USA was conducted to better understand how circuits of underlie behaviour.

Using advanced in animal models, the research team was able to pinpoint a single neuron in the neocortex that signaled sensory behavior.

This led to the discovery that active processes in its thin dendritic appendages are responsible for implementing the integration of sensory and motor signals.

"We have long known that active provide neurons with powerful processing capabilities," says QBI's Associate Professor Stephen Williams, who collaborated on the study.

"However, little has been known about the role of neuronal dendrites in behaviourally related circuit computations.

"We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the dendrites of nerve cells operate during behaviour to implement the integration of sensory and motor signals," he said.

Such multi-modal integration enables the brain to perform at lightning speed, allowing animals to react to their environment in relation to existing knowledge.

The paper, titled 'Nonlinear dendritic integration of sensory and motor input during an active sensing task' was published in the prestigious journal, Nature.

In the paper researchers demonstrate how a novel global dendritic nonlinearity is involved in the integration of both sensory and motor during an active sensing behaviour.

"At the cellular level, such integration combines motor signals, which control , with detected from the environment," Associate Professor Williams said.

This process allows an animal to predict where a sensory signal occurred with relation to its movement.

"For example, in a mouse one of the major sensory modalities is touch by the whiskers," Associate Professor Williams said.

"Whisker movement is triggered by the motor cortex, which sends projection to the distal dendrites of the output neurons in the sensory area of the .

"When a sensory signal is detected and correlated with motor cortex activity a large output response is generated in the dendrites, which represents the detection of an object in head-centred coordinates," he said.

Explore further: Persistent sensory experience is good for aging brain

Related Stories

Persistent sensory experience is good for aging brain

May 24, 2012
Despite a long-held scientific belief that much of the wiring of the brain is fixed by the time of adolescence, a new study shows that changes in sensory experience can cause massive rewiring of the brain, even as one ages. ...

Recommended for you

Brain response study upends thinking about why practice speeds up motor reaction times

August 16, 2018
Researchers in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that a computerized study of 36 healthy adult volunteers asked to repeat the same movement over and over became significantly ...

Newly identified role for inhibition in cerebellar plasticity and behavior

August 16, 2018
Almost everyone is familiar with the unique mixture of surprise and confusion that occurs after making a mistake during an everyday movement. It's a fairly startling experience—stumbling on a step or accidentally missing ...

Men and women show surprising differences in seeing motion

August 16, 2018
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have found an unexpected difference between men and women. On average, their studies show, men pick up on visual motion significantly faster than women do.

How people use, and lose, preexisting biases to make decisions

August 16, 2018
From love and politics to health and finances, humans can sometimes make decisions that appear irrational, or dictated by an existing bias or belief. But a new study from Columbia University neuroscientists uncovers a surprisingly ...

Working memory might be more flexible than previously thought

August 16, 2018
Breaking with the long-held idea that working memory has fixed limits, a new study by researchers at Uppsala University and New York University suggests that these limits adapt themselves to the task that one is performing. ...

Protein droplets keep neurons at the ready and immune system in balance

August 15, 2018
Inside cells, where DNA is packed tightly in the nucleus and rigid proteins keep intricate transport systems on track, some molecules have a simpler way of establishing order. They can self-organize, find one another in crowded ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.